The Niigata Albirex reached the inaugural bj-league title game last season and lost the historic contest to the Osaka Evessa.
This season, Masaya Hirose’s squad remains a title contender.
The Albirex enter the weekend with a 5-1 record, tops in the bj-league. They are 4-0 on the road and are allowing 70.4 points per game, the lowest total in the eight-team circuit.
They earned back-to-back wins over the host Saitama Broncos last weekend, topping Kenji Yamane’s club 72-68 on Nov. 18 and 84-75 in their rematch the next day.
Big man Nick Davis paced the Albirex with 23 points and a whopping 24 rebounds in the victory that completed the sweep. He was the team’s top scorer in the opener, too, with 13 and had a busy work shift in the paint, pulling down 16 boards.
Niigata exhibited solid team work in those wins. Antoni Wyche dished out eight assists in the first game, while Daiki Terashita was Albirex’s top passer in the Sunday contest with five.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES: Back on the hardwood, the Albirex aim for a continuation of their early season success.
They play host to Osaka (3-3) on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. and 1, respectively.
Host Saitama (2-4) faces the expansion Takamatsu Five Arrows (3-3) at 6:30 and 3.
The 3-3 Tokyo Apache, winners of three straight, take on the Toyama Grouses (2-4) in a pair of games at Ariake Colosseum — Saturday’s tipoff is at 6 p.m. and Sunday’s matinee starts at 2.
The Oita HeatDevils (3-3) aim to get over the .500 hump with two tilts against the Sendai 89ers, who have also split their first six games, starting with Saturday’s 7 p.m. clash. The teams meet again at 2 on Sunday.
WEEK 3 REWIND: It was a banner weekend for the expansion Five Arrows, who recorded two home victories over the Evessa.
On Friday, point guard Rasheed Sparks scored 28 points, including six 3-pointers, in the 92-90 win.
The Five Arrows made the hustle plays, too, finishing with 10 steals (Satoshi Takeda and Sparks had three apiece) and five blocked shots (Diagne Thierno Seydou Nouro swatted four).
Reggie Warren added 16 points and showed tenacity in getting to the free-throw line 11 times (he made seven).
Takamatsu, guided by Motofumi Aoki, displayed poise and confidence down the stretch and outscored Osaka 34-18 in the final period.
Lynn Washington and Jeff Newton, the Evessa’s dynamic frontcourt combo, had score 25 and 21 points, respectively.
In the rematch on Saturday, Takamatsu used a pivotal second quarter — it outscored Osaka 29-15 — to give itself some breathing room and then held on for a 96-93 triumph.
Sparks’ 3-point shooting was vital — again.
He made 4 of 6 3-points attempts and had 16 points in all, grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds and made five assists.
Forward Isaac Sojourner had 18 points and nine boards, and center Julius Ashby chipped in a pair of valuable eights — for his scoring and rebounding, that is.
Shooting guard Yu Okada, who hails from Shiga Prefecture, had a banner performance for the Five Arrows. He nailed 8 of 12 3-pointers and finished with 31 points.
Washington produced 36 points and Newton had 20 in defeat.
In Tokorozawa, the home-court edge didn’t help the Broncos last weekend.
Andrew Feeley put 19 points on the board in the Saturday loss and grabbed 14 rebounds.
A center, Feeley was the focal point of the team’s inside attack — he took 15 of Saitama’s 50 shots from inside the arc.
Kazuhiro Shoji chipped in with 17 points.
Feeley carried the offensive load on Nov. 19 as well, scoring 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
Gordon James posted big numbers from the power forward position — 16 points and 18 boards.
The Apache defeated Oita 75-68 last Saturday and followed that up with a 92-81 win.
Defense fueled the first victory.
The Apache kept the pressure on the HeatDevils all game, holding them to 6-for-25 shooting from long range and picking up 13 steals (Michael Jackson and Taketo Aoki were tops with four apiece).
In the scoring department, John Humphrey’s 25 points were No. 1, while Jeremee McGuire contributed 20.
Justin Allen’s 22 points led Oita.
A day later, Joe Bryant’s team cranked up the offense and played stellar “D” again.
Tokyo forced 14 steals (MJ was the top theft artist in the house — he had six and added 12 points for good measure) and held Oita to 28 percent from 3-point land.
Humphrey was again the high man with 31 points, or four less than his jersey number.
For Oita, Andy Ellis netted 28 and Kohei Mitomo tallied 14.
Sendai defeated host Toyama 88-76 on Nov. 18 and won 90-80 in the following day’s contest.
Center Ryan Blackwell scored 13 of his 26 points at the charity stripe for the 89ers and showed his deft passing touch (five assists, sharing the team lead with Akita native Kenichi Takahashi) in the opener, while Michael Chappell added 23 markers.
Jerod Ward’s 33 points led the Grouses.
In the Sunday showdown, Blackwell set the tone for Sendai with 32 points and 11 rebounds.
Four teammates added double-figure scoring games.
Ward poured in 31 in the loss.
TV HIGHLIGHTS: Catch news and highlights of the league on the Professional Basketball bj-league TV show. It airs on Friday nights at 11 on BS Fuji, which is available through SKY PerfecTV and cable.
UPCOMING COVERAGE: Look for The Japan Times’ Offensive and Defensive Player of the Month winners next week.